The world is no longer what it was a few short weeks ago. It is unnerving to see empty grocery store shelves, shuttered schools, steep drops in the commodity and stock markets, people hoarding hand sanitizer and more – all due to coronavirus.
There are no guidebooks to tell us how to manage times like these. Yet, we can gain some perspective from history, especially when we remember the cornerstones that have helped us weather past storms: family, farming, faith and service.
Perspective and Resilience
Amidst all this turmoil, I was thinking of my grandfather, Anthony Even, who was born in 1893 in Humboldt, South Dakota. He grew up with eight brothers and sisters on a farm that had no running water, no electricity and no radio. He was 24 when the United States entered World War I, an age we would call a millennial today. Tony came of age at a time when his older brother Nick was drafted into the Army to fight the “War to End All Wars,” and millions around the world were dying from the Spanish Flu pandemic.
In 1923, Tony married his wife Edna, just as agriculture entered a long financial depression. My grandpa and grandma raised five kids, crops and livestock on our family farm. They endured bank closures during the Great Depression, devastating droughts, brutal blizzards, dust storms, grasshopper plagues, skyrocketing unemployment, family illness and ruinous low prices. Just when things improved, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which prompted U.S. involvement in World War II and the associated rationing, supply and labor shortages, price controls and worry that comes with war.
Throughout the rest of his life, grandpa survived constant market downturns, livestock illnesses, crop failures and seeing his sons serve in the military during and after the Korean War. And yet, he endured.
So, what helped farmers like my grandparents stick it out and succeed? It really boiled down to four simple things that were important to them then, and that I believe are important to us now.
Anthony and Edna were passionate about caring for their family. “Family first” was their motto. That included extended family and friends they treated as family. As we are asked to make more personal sacrifices to help stop the spread of coronavirus, it is important to keep the needs of our families, employees, friends and communities top of mind. That is why people and community are the foundation of the pork industry’s We CareSM ethical principles. We consider caring for others a calling that we take seriously, now more than ever.
Grandpa loved being a farmer, despite the many challenges. Raising food to feed others was his driving force, and, as those of us in agriculture know, there is nothing quite like the feeling of fulfillment you get from feeding others. We know we work in a critical industry, but as the federal government makes it official to prevent disruptions amidst COVID-19 control efforts, we have an opportunity to demonstrate how important farmers, truckers, feed mill operators, packing plant workers and grocery store employees really are. Agriculture truly has a special responsibility, and we cannot forget it or take it for granted.
Grandpa and Grandma held their Catholic faith dear. Mass every Sunday and praying the rosary was akin to breathing. Regardless of your personal beliefs, having faith in a purpose larger than ourselves during these times is important. We must strive for a future that is not yet clear. One where we are kinder to, and more understanding of, one another. That is if we aspire to emerge from this, as former President Abe Lincoln said, “the better angels of our nature.”
Both of my grandparents believed in giving back. Their sons and daughters, in addition to serving in the military, also volunteered at the fire department, at the hospital and for the VA. Now is our chance to do the same. To serve our neighbors. I am talking about doing more than clicking “like” on Facebook or putting a #buylocal on your next Instagram post. Our food banks, schools, the elderly and emergency workers need our help. Let’s figure out safe ways to do that in our communities, and as the millennials say, IRL.
Because that is the silver lining. Things are suddenly REAL. In the face of what will likely go down as one of the most significant challenges of our lifetimes, we’re finding that we crave the tried and true.
Suddenly, the trappings of celebrity seem shallow; partisan points of view leave us disappointed; talking heads on TV merely add to stress; and opponents of agriculture quickly lack followers when the grocery store shelves are empty.
Luckily, we can count on the women and men who work in American agriculture. These are real farmers, on real farms, producing real food. Like real pork. They still are, as they always have been, quietly working in the fields and factories, caring for their crops and livestock, feeding others by embodying four timeless cornerstones: Family, farming, faith and service.
Americans are resilient. Our grandparents weathered much worse, were successful and survived. We will get through this together.
CEO, National Pork Board